Both in Alaska and on Capitol Hill there has been remarkably little gloating —much less rejoicing— over Ted Stevens’ current problems and apparently impending downfall. Even NPR’s reporting has been as much in sorrow as in anger.
Ted Stevens has been around this town and in the US Senate for a long time now, and over the years he has established a reputation as one of the more colorful characters — a hard-working Senator who knows how to take care of his constituents and bring home the federal bacon for his State. Like all Chairmen (and especially all Appropriations Chairmen) he was autocratic; but, unlike many, he wasn’t arrogant.
If he has become even more testy and acerbic with seniority and age, those are his traits as much as his temperament. His bark can be fearful but his bite is rarely felt. After the storm blows over he can sit down and work out compromise solutions that are usually fair to all sides.
He regretted the rise of partisanship during the 1990s and the ascendance of people who did “politics all the time”. He enjoys wearing neckties featuring the Incredible Hulk and the Tasmanian Devil, and he can occasionally laugh at himself as “a mean miserable sob”.
Before yesterday’s indictments were announced, he had mainly surfaced in the wider world and the lower 48 thanks to his battle for the bridge to nowhere, and for his description of the internet as a series of tubes.
In both cases there were better explanations —which is not to say that they were good explanations— than were made by reporters or comedians.
Ted Stevens was born in Indianapolis and grew up in Manhattan Beach. During World War Two, he was one of the Flying Tigers, bringing supplies “over the hump” of the Himalayas; he won the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He graduated from UCLA and Harvard Law School. In 1952 he drove up the the Alaska Highway to Fairbanks and began practicing law there. As a local lawyer and then US Attorney during Alaska’s “territorial days,” and later as a DOI official in Washington, he was active in the successful drive for statehood.
After serving in the Alaskan House of Representatives and running unsuccessfully for the US Senate nomination, he was appointed to fill a vacant seat by Governor Walter Hickel — who was himself about to become Richard Nixon’s first Secretary of the Interior.
The newly-minted Senator Stevens arrived in Washington a month before President Nixon was inaugurated. In 1970 he won the seat —which he has now held for forty years— for himself. Until the end he was one of RN’s staunchest supporters.
In 2000, he was named the Alaskan of the Century:
Throughout his Senate career he has been an unflinching advocate for a strong military posture. Steeped in the intricacies of national security and military preparedness, his expertise earns him a vital role in international negotiation, planning and deployment of national defense assets. Senator Ted Stevens is himself an asset to the United States and represents Alaska’s finest contribution to our national leadership.
Alaska is a state where certain levels of corruption are historic and endemic — sort of like Louisiana but with ice. Although it appears that Senator Stevens may have been less than rigorous in the scruples department, and that he may have taken a tad too good care of his kids, he hasn’t been one of the Senate’s many real rascals — much less one of the outright crooks.
He is charged with failing to report gifts, and if he did it he did it, and there should be no excuses and he should pay the price. If he has to serve time in Alaska it will probably be in a facility with his name on it. Guilty or not he has the misfortune of being a conservative Republican with a long record and a short temper and some serious opposition at a time when the tides are running strongly in the opposite direction.
Stephen Colbert could be depended on to cover the story from his own unique perspective.